Bookstores: The Holy Grail

One of our favourites: Munro’s Books, Victoria, BC (photo ©Wayne Templeton)

One of our favourites: Munro’s Books, Victoria, BC (photo ©Wayne Templeton)

The most asked question we get (after "How much will it cost to publish my book?") is "How can I get my book into bookstores?" And we get it. You want your book to sell, and traditional retail seems like the most effective way to do that. But it's important to know the processes that precede this step and that there are other (sometimes better) ways to get your book into readers' hands.

If you're dead set on bookstores, the best way to get into them is with a distributor. Distributors, with their widely circulated catalogues, seasonal book fairs, and teams of sales reps, will get your book into a wide network of stores across the country. In Canada, there are only a handful of reputable distributors that specialize in small press and independently published books, including Sandhill, Red Tuque, and Gordon Soules. Each has a different area of specialization, though, so be sure to check their lists before sending them a sell sheet for your book. Remember that, ideally, you should be lining up a distributor before your book is printed so that they can pre-sell it.

A fairly standard distribution agreement means you get 35% of the list price and they get 65%. To get your book into big retailers, like Chapters, Costco, or Walmart, you'll have  to give up even more. And, these discounts are still on a returnable basis (meaning those books that don't sell in stores will come back to you a few months later). And, caveat emptor: no one should charge you a fee in addition to a percentage of sales for distributing your book, unless they're offering some marketing and publicity support as well.

Think of your relationship with a distributor as a long-term partnership – they want your book to sell as much as you do. Talk to them about your needs, and if it is an exclusive contract, be forthcoming with them about other plans and arrangements you've made. If you don't have any luck finding a distributor for your book (and there's a good chance you won't), many authors work with Canadian book wholesalers and do just fine. Like a distributor, a wholesaler will get your book into bookstores, libraries, and schools, but they don't do any selling; they just fulfill store orders. Telling bookstores how and why to order your book will be your job. As a result, wholesale agreements aren't typically exclusive, and their terms are not as high as a distributor's. If you can't secure a distributor or a wholesaler, many bookstores (especially the indies) will take your book on consignment. Even Chapters has been known to make this arrangement on a store-by-store basis, depending on the community.

At the end of the day, your best return on investment is going to be selling your book yourself, either hand-selling it, one book at a time, or via your website. Even Amazon offers a payment structure of 70% to authors, keeping 30% for themselves (as long as your book is priced between $2.99 and $9.99). So, make sure you have a good website set up months before your book comes out, with an eCommerce platform or links to where readers can buy the book online.

And remember, no matter who is selling your book – yourself or a third-party vendor – you're still going to have to promote it to make readers aware of it. After all, getting your book into stores is only the first step; getting readers into those stores, through promotion, is the next (and key) step. But don't let that scare you. Have fun with your promotional efforts, and fortunately, there are tons of resources out there to help you do just that.

New Year, New Places, New Faces


Happy 2018! We thought this turning over of a new year would be a good time to share a few changes that have been afoot at Behind the Book. First, we now officially have offices on both the east and west coasts – that is, Rachelle heads up our Vancouver office on the west coast, while Carol has placed some roots on the east coast of Vancouver Island. Lured by the sandy beaches, great hiking, and proximity to new wild places to explore, Carol and her family have relocated to sunny (well, not yet anyway) Parksville, where the motto, "It's a Lifestyle: Live, Work, Play," struck a chord. While we continue to work with clients across Canada, Carol is excited to become part of the vibrant and growing self-publishing scene on Vancouver Island, with events like the North Island Writers Conference later this month.

One of the unexpected perks of our Vancouver Island office is that we're closer to two of our favourite printing reps: Craig Shemilt of Printorium Bookworks and Gerhard Aichelberger of Friesens, who work tirelessly to make sure our self-published authors get exactly what they need to make their books the best they can be.

We've also added a new designer to our team. Based in Vancouver, Jan Westendorp of Kato Design has years of experience as a book designer and photographer, and her keen eye for detail in typography and layout makes her books stand out from the crowd. We've also added digital publishing and author platform to our wheelhouse with Kaleeg Hainsworth and his team of techies at Bright Wing Books.  They work with us to help our clients create beautiful eBooks, as well as customize their online presence (yes, including the dreaded website).

So welcome 2018, and here's to great new changes, opportunities, and collaborations.

P.S. In celebration of our Vancouver Island office and its proximity to Nanaimo, we're sharing our favourite recipe for Classic Nanaimo Bars. Enjoy!

Is My Orange Your Orange?


Nope, this isn't a post about Christmas oranges, and it's not a deeply philosophical exploration of consciousness either. But, it's still a good question: do we see colour the same way as others, and if not, what impact does that have on creating (or even reading) colour books?

Colour, especially on a cover, plays an important role in situating your book in the right genre and evoking the appropriate emotional response from your readers. Take the internationally bestselling For Dummies books. A lot of market research went into choosing the distinctive, vibrant yellow covers for the launch of the series (which was, incidentally, initially focused solely on software and technology topics, beginning with DOS for Dummies). Test groups found that the "happy" yellow colour evoked the non-intimidating nature of the guides, and they were easily recognizable as instructional/reference books. Today, no matter where you are in the world, those bright yellow covers, and the brand itself, is immediately identifiable.

And yet, according to the technicians at Friesens, colour is a never-ending challenge in the printing and publishing industry: "as we labour towards getting the perfect colours, the person next to us most likely will see colour differently." Even so, it is possible to get it "right." After all, one of our best cover designers is in fact colour blind, and he hasn't done a cover yet that has disappointed. Technology in colour standardization – in both digital and press printing – has improved in leaps and bounds, and whatever printer you're working with should be able to offer your designer guidance in calibrating their monitor for optimum colour effect and printer matching. Many printers, like Friesens, will even allow you to send test files of several interior pages well in advance of printing your book so that they can output high resolution proofs for you to review.

Colour has intrigued, and baffled, scientists, artists, and philosophers for ages (case in point, check out Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's Theory of Colours, first published in 1810!). But if you just want to have some fun assessing the quality of your colour perception, try this colour vision eye test or the Munsell Hue Test.

And finally, we wish you a happy, and colourful, holiday season!